[Advaita-l] Interesting URL

Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian rama.balasubramanian at gmail.com
Sun May 11 17:29:39 CDT 2008

Hello Gerald,

As far as I know, the Western academic Paul Hacker used the term
"Neo-Hinduism", see "Philology and Confrontation", edited by Halbfass.
Some academics started using the allied term Neo-vedanta to modern
masters such as Vivekananda, et. al, who claimed to be advaitins, but
who THEY felt were not true to "actual vedanta". The problem of course
was they applied Judeo-Christian notions of faithfulness to a
particular text. In general, many accepted advaitic masters have
slightly different and sometimes even radically different approaches -
say Sankara, Vidyaranya, Madhusudana Saraswati, etc., who are all
accepted by the "mainstream" tradition. As Appayya Dikshita correctly
puts it, the main tenets are however always upheld, the mode of
exposition varies, and this is not a fault.

The problem which at least Vidyasankar and I have with what we
sometimes called "neo-vedanta" has nothing to do with Western or
Eastern teachers, or with Western academic notions. I know that at
least both of us think highly of Trevor Leggett and A. J. Alston. The
issue is people coming up with metaphysical psycobabble, and claiming
to have been "automatically enlightened" while a) staring at a picture
of Ramana Maharshi b) visiting Arunachala c) by some other XYZ, etc.

The bigger issue is the denial and sometimes even making fun of the
need for actual sAdhana - i.e., the four-fold requisities necessary
for vedaanta-vichaara. This is indeed a very Western phenomenon at
least in origin, and is now seeping back to India via the English
educated elite. The teachers who are classified as neo-vedantins by
Western academics - Sivananda, Chinmayananda, etc., actually emphasize
the development of four-fold qualities, sometimes even exclusively
concentrating on that. But rest assured, I doubt if any Indians here
think Westerners are not qualified to be advaitins! Re: the
brahma-sUtra itself admits people outside the four-fold varNa system
are qualified.


On Fri, May 9, 2008 at 5:44 PM, Gerald Penn <gpenn at cs.toronto.edu> wrote:
> "Neo-advaita" may very well be the most misused philosophical
> term of our time - right up there with "ontology" and "karma."  This is
> actually an Indian school of philosophy, not Western, and it dates back
> over 100 years.  It is not a "Western phenomenon," though arguably an
> Eastern reaction to Westernization, and it has absolutely nothing to do
> with cults of personality.  What this article says to me is that Mr.
> Jacobs simply does not understand the term.  I'm not sure he's ever even
> read a neo-advaitic philosophical treatise, from the general way that
> he's carrying on.  Perhaps it's also worth noting that his article begins
> with a quote from the Book of Matthew, which, though appropriate to his
> topic, hardly recommends his own brand of reasoning as any more
> classically advaita than the schools he is criticizing.
>   I've seen "neo-advaita" used on this list with a similarly condescending
> sneer.  At best, it appears to connote that "my guy is more authentic
> than his guy."  At times, I suspect that what it's implicitly saying is
> that Westerners are somehow racially unqualified to study Hinduism.  In
> either case, as students of philosophy, don't you think it's time that you
> set a higher standard for yourselves than this?  At least be honest and
> just state your prejudice.  Or if there is a legitimate philosophical
> objection to be made, don't confer a label on it, as if that's somehow the
> end of the debate, let alone a label that simply doesn't apply.  Advaita
> has a very long and respected tradition of dialectic in which this sort of
> monkey business would never be mistaken for a satisfactory or convincing
> rebuttal.  It's embarrassing to see the level of discussion on this
> list sink to this level.

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